Communication is EVERYTHING!
Of course at 4D Human Being we pretty much believe this to be true and whilst (strictly speaking) there are other things in the world aside from communication (), we truly believe that communication is core to who we are and the experience of life that we are creating for ourselves and one another. So no small thing!
And yet, why is it that so often we don’t communicate, or feel that others fail to communicate with us? This can be because literally no communication occurs. And it can also refer to communication simply not landing in the way we/others intend – and so what takes place is ‘miscommunication’. We could write a book (actually a library) on why communication is important and the skills and tools we can use to be better communicators. But this August Newsletter will not be a book. Instead, we want to offer one focus to help us step in and communicate and to be better communicators. And that is…
…that communication is relational. So join us as we release the focus from ourselves as ‘individual communicators’. And we shift the arc of focus to the relationship – to the audience (or our partner!) to create a different experience of what communication really is.
Why is Communication Important
Any list of ‘top required soft skills in the workplace’ will certainly have communication skills at the top or very near the top. These skills are critical to our success and the success of our organisations – never more so than at the moment – whether collaborating across organisations during the pandemic to save lives or as is the case for many of us working hard to sustain business performance across teams and customer bases when working under challenging economic conditions and doing so virtually. And aside from the professional benefits of strong communication, let’s not forget that research suggests that in our personal relationships, it is effective communication that we struggle with the most and is the #1 reason for relationships breaking down (John Gottman Institute).
We can tell ourselves that the reason to be a great communicator is to effectively transfer information from one human being to another. And whilst this is true – and has been critical to the survival and development of our species, communication serves so much more. Communication enables us to create, build and nurture relationships with other people and to create shared meaning in our lives. And when that becomes the focus of why and how we communicate, well… we are entering a whole new ball game.
Why it Fails
There are many reasons why communication either doesn’t take place at all or it fails for some reason. One way to think about why this might be the case is to consider where is your focus of attention? Think about the last time you needed to have a difficult conversation or perhaps get up to present in public or even participate in an interview. It’s likely that any preoccupation prior to the ‘communication’ would have been focused on you. Will I do well? Will I say the wrong thing? Will I forget something?
And if this is the case then several things may be happening, such as…
We may want to be ‘right’
We may be fearful of looking stupid or being criticized or attacked
We may choose language that focuses on our own needs/opinions
We may not listen
We may end up trying to avoid having the conversation
We may (consciously or unconsciously) be preparing counter-arguments for why the other person is wrong
And so the list goes on.
As a business owner occasionally I do have to step into some difficult conversations and back in the day when I was younger, and working in the corporate world, I sometimes would prepare a lot for such ‘encounters’. However looking back now, my ‘preparation’ was undoubtedly attempting to secure me in some of the above positions. Rather than focus on a true two-way communication.
Communication is Relational
Communication is so much more than words and information. It’s relational. Communication creates, builds and transforms our relationships with everyone from our family, friends, colleagues, boss, clients and anyone from the postman to the slightly grumpy neighbour!
So with this in mind, where is our ‘arc of focus’? Think of an arc stretching from you to the other person/audience and if THAT is where the focus is, we can transform how we communicate and how we feel about communication. And transform our relationships.
The arc of focus and The Big B
It takes effort (in all 4 dimension – physical, emotional, intellectual and intentional) to remove the focus from ourselves and truly focus on other people. As the novelist Zadie Smith recently pointed out on a podcast interview (The Adam Buxton Podcast ep.130) – when she met Tom Hanks, she thought what a kind and generous person he was and how he is so outward facing to everyone he meets. This is a generous thing to do and can have an enormous effect on other people. But as she also pointed out, it takes practice and it can look an exhausting thing to do for any length of time, especially if that focus of attention in communication is not reciprocated.
So, accepting we are not all perfect and selfless beings. And we are not even all Tom Hanks, what can we do? How can we shift our arc of focus to the ‘other’?
One thing to consider is to craft into your communication the benefit to the other person of what you are saying/offering. It sounds obvious but so often we can forget and we can communicate just from our own perspective – with an unconscious emphasis on what WE want. Build in the Big B (benefit) upfront and not only are people more likely to listen, but the communication is also much more likely to be relationship-focused.
Our gestures say so much about where we are operating from and whilst gestures such as pointing fingers, folded arms, exasperated shrugs all perhaps have their place and… we can choose to use our physical gestures to engage relationally when speaking. Or even when being silent.
For example, open arms and open palms is a universal sign of ‘peace and openness’ and demonstrates empathy and a willingness to be open and that we are not hiding anything. This simple gesture can have an enormous impact on the neurochemistry of the person standing in front of us.
One of the most impactful examples of this that I find personally is when I manage to find myself in my more ‘conscious’ parenting state and respond to tantrums or anger from my kids with a simple open arm gesture. It doesn’t always work (and let’s be clear I don’t always find that it’s my first response!) but I am constantly surprised at how often it does work. It calms the situation and opens a new line of communication, where my child intuitively feels that I am open to hearing their viewpoint or underlying needs.
The Listening Vase
Emotionally we can boost our empathy by listening rather than talking. Not only does this help people feel heard but as the listener you are more powerful than you perhaps think! Not only in terms of shaping the conversation and landing the communication – but with the added bonus of simultaneously focusing on and building the relationship. If you feel that communicating your message is all about you talking, think again. Think of someone else’s words as the liquid and you as the person listening is the vase. Depending on how you listen, facial expressions, body language, attitude, concentration, focus, you will be shifting the shape of the vase and how the message is finally formed. At the extreme of course – if you stop listening, the speaker will finally stop speaking!
The 2% Truth
“I have one major rule: Everybody is right. More specifically, everybody — including me — has some important pieces of truth, and all of those pieces need to be honoured, cherished, and included in a more gracious, spacious, and compassionate embrace.” ― Ken Wilber
If we enter into conversation wanting to be right or to win it’s unlikely communication will truly take place or at least not land in a way that makes it effective. We each have our own truth and whilst we may not hold ourselves out to be perfect, flawless and always right, we do fundamentally have a viewpoint and a belief that is important to us. And of course… that is true of every other person on the planet. So… Intentionally, how can we hold both our own truth and also that of others? Without entering a battle or fully conceding? The answer is to understand that we are all partially right.
One way to practice this mindset is to enter a conversation knowing that whatever the other person says there will be at least a 2% truth in what they say… This small % means that we can hold our position/opinion as our own truth AND we can also allow space for the fact that the other person’s opinion or point of view even if vastly different to our own could at the very least hold a 2% truth even for ourselves.
Many of us may sometimes have conversations around the current pandemic and there are many differing opinions out there. I and many other people have for example travelled abroad recently for certain reasons (e.g. me – to collect my kids from their dad’s house in Italy). Yet some of us may question why people are travelling abroad at the moment especially when quick changes in quarantine measures could arise at any moment. My mind wants to leap to many defences of MY choice to travel abroad and yet taking a breath, perhaps I don’t need to justify my reasons. Perhaps I can be true both to the many thought-through reasons surrounding my decision, careful choices I had made, and how I had managed the trip cautiously – whilst also recognising that yes there is also a truth in mass movement not being ideal at the moment. Neither of us was fully right or wrong. There is truth everywhere not just somewhere.
The information you need to share (whether in a personal or professional relationship) is important to you and potentially important to others. And yet your communication does so much more than transfer information from one human being to another. You are creating a connection (Communication-ships!) between yourself and other human beings – in every moment. And if that is our focus every time we go to communicate, what might we change and… what might we create?